Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts
Did you know the District’s Shaw neighborhood is named for the commander of an all-black Civil War regiment? Or that cannons at Fort Reno fired on advancing Confederate troops? As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we explore well-known and well-hidden historic sites with a lasting impact on the Washington region.
- Frank Smith Founder and Director, African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
- Mike Litterst National Park Service Communications Coordinator for the Civil War 150th Anniversary
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSThis hour, did you know that Abraham Lincoln wrote much of the Emancipation Proclamation at his summer house on the grounds of The Soldiers Home in Northwest D.C.? Or that cannons at Fort Reno in Washington's Tenleytown neighborhood fired on advancing confederate troops? Or that D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood is named for Robert Gould Shaw, commander of an all-black regiment during the Civil War? More important, how many of these historic sites have you visited?
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSAs the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our region offers dozens of places to travel back in time and see what life was like during the conflict. From well-known battlefields to little-known museums, it's easy to get acquainted with the people and events whose names live on today in our parks and our traffic circles and our history books. Joining us to discuss Civil War tourism here in the Washington region is Frank Smith, founder and director of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MR. FRANK SMITHThank you very much.
ROBERTSAnd Mike Litterst. He's National Park Service Communications Coordinator for the Civil War 150th Anniversary. Welcome to you.
MR. MIKE LITTERSTThank you, Rebecca.
ROBERTSSo the Civil War, it's funny to think of Washington during the Civil War. It wasn't that established of a town at that point. It had only been around for 60 years or so. It was still kind of a backwater, but then it became the strategic center of the war, as well as a place that was under siege. Try to paint us a picture about what Washington was like then.
LITTERSTWashington was far from the international or cosmopolitan world capitol that we think of today. Not 70,000 people called Washington home on the eve of the Civil War. Much of it had been reclaimed from swamp land earlier. But with the outbreak of the war the Washingtonians found themselves with confederate Virginia on the far side of the Potomac River and slave-holding Maryland surrounding them to the north. And there were grave concerns about what might happen.
LITTERSTAnd all of a sudden, Washington, with just one lone fort to protect it, Fort Washington to the south, found itself very quickly militarizing in terms of not only defenses, but politics. The center of the government, which had been here, continued to ramp up in the face of war, as we see in history throughout time.
ROBERTSYou know, from Kojo's office upstairs here at WAMU, you can see Fort Reno. And I think sort of you hear a name like Fort Reno, you think it probably was a fort at some point, maybe Civil War era if you're thinking through when Washington might have been fortified, but it was one of a real ring of forts. I mean, this city was really staunchly defended and it's amazing how little of that is left.
LITTERSTIn the four years of the war Washington goes from, again, just that one lone early 19th century fort to the most heavily fortified city in the entire world. There are 68 forts forming a 37-mile ring around the city, gun emplacements that could have equipped up to 1500 guns. At its peak there were as many as a 1000 guns trained to points north and south to protect the city. Fort Reno, which you mentioned, was actually the largest of them. Three-thousand men quartered in Fort Reno alone.
ROBERTSAnd is there archaeology, is there sort of artifact preservation or have those sites kind of fallen into the urban landscape?
LITTERSTBits and pieces, sort of the entire spectrum. There are today remnants of 19 of the forts that are administered by the National Park Service as the Civil War defenses of Washington. And they range from Fort Stevens, for example, which is partially reconstructed with monuments and markers to Fort Reno, which is a nice urban green space. But there hasn't been anything left of Fort Reno really since the turn of the century, since the late 1890s.
ROBERTSAnd Frank Smith, the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum celebrate, in particular, the African-American contribution to the union effort. Tell me a little bit about their role in the war.
SMITHOkay. Well, let me just piggy-back on the fort thing for a minute because when the Civil War started, there was an African-American community here, free and enslaved community. Many of the free ones were people who had runaway and had ended up here in D.C. And there were people who were enslaved who were brought here by their captors and held as slaves here. There were also African-Americans in jails here. We have at our museum a newspaper clipping from I think Harper's Weekly, back in 1861 I believe it is, of a jail right down at 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue where a bunch of women were being held.
SMITHThey had been captured by their slave capturers. And they were being held in a public jail there six blocks from the Capitol, while their captors waited, I guess they were off having fun so they could eventually take them back down to the Deep South. So there was an African-American community here of all strata, free, slaved and also some of them held as captives. But Washington was also developing as something else, a fortress for people, runaway slaves who were coming here too, to be within the protection of these forts and these armies.
SMITHAnd there were several contraband camps here. By the time we get into the mid '60s or early '63, '64 there's about five or six contraband camps. One of which was located at 12th and S Street, which is in the area that is now called Shaw, two blocks from the African-American Civil War Museum. And as a matter of fact, it's interesting you should mention that because we just finished doing a ground-penetrating radar examination of this site, which is currently a playground for the William Lloyd Garrison elementary school at 12th and S Streets.
ROBERTSWhat did you find?
SMITHWell, we just finished the ground-penetrating radar portion of it. We're gonna get a report back at the end of this month from the archaeologist who did this. And he's gonna identify the four or five most promising places on this site where we might be able to find artifacts and things like that. And so we're gonna proceed later on with digging in those sites. But we're doing this because the community is trying to redo this playground to turn it into a really great community space. And as we do that we wanna make sure we protect whatever artifacts are left there. So it's interesting that you would mention that.
SMITHBut this was a site that interestingly enough was visited by President Abraham Lincoln when he was writing the Emancipation Proclamation. And we're going to reenact his visit on the 29th of this month, 29th of July, on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 President Lincoln visited this site. Why did he come to 12 and S Street, this contraband camp? Well, he came because his cook, Mary Dines, was a black woman who was an escaped slave from Maryland who had come here to live at this contraband camp which was called Camp Barker.
SMITHAnd it was called Camp Barker because the military installation there was called Camp Barker. And if you run away from a plantation in Maryland or Virginia, you come to Washington, D.C., you plant yourself right next to a military base because if there's any freedom and protection anywhere in America it's in Washington and if there's any protection it's near a military base. And the base was called Camp Barker. So she came and I don't know how she did this, but eventually ended up cooking for President Lincoln at the cottage, at Lincoln's Cottage which is located at Soldiers Home.
SMITHAnd so she convinced Mr. President to stop by her place one Sunday afternoon and he came at a time when they all greeted him. There is a famous Brady photograph of the people lined up in this camp in their Sunday best waiting on the president to come so that they could sing a few songs and raise a few prayers and some hymns and maybe they were the ones that convinced President Lincoln to put that paragraph six into the Emancipation Proclamation which said persons of suitable condition will be brought into the union army. He had to arm these slaves in order to help save the nation and end slavery here.
ROBERTSNow, when you said what was Lincoln doing at 12th and S, I would have guessed that Frederick Douglass had brought him there.
SMITHWell, it wasn't Frederick Douglass it was Mary Dines. You know they say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Mary Dines was doing the cooking for him. And she was probably in his ear every day, saying, you know, you gotta do this. And Douglass actually only met with President Lincoln at the White House twice during his term of office, but it was Mary Dines. She was the one that convinced him to come.
ROBERTSWe are talking about Civil War Washington and sites you can still see, where you might learn something about it or visit some sites that played a role in that war. You can join us at 800-433-8850. You can send us email at Kojo@wamu.org. You could also get in touch with us through Facebook or tweet us @Kojoshow. In front of the African-American Civil War Museum is this memorial that's quite heroic. Describe it for us.
SMITHWell, it's a bronze statue that was actually done by a sculptor named Ed Hamilton, who's from Louisville, Ky. It's a bronze statue about 14 feet tall. It features three soldiers and a sailor. And they are surrounding what is actually a family, African-American family, a mother and children, grandparents and with one soldier standing with them. And all of these people would have been slaves when the Civil War started. And it was their heroic effort here in the Civil War that actually helped President Lincoln save the union. This statue is surrounded by this semi-circle of walls that have stainless steel plaques on them.
SMITHThese plaques have 209,145 names of African-American soldiers who joined President Lincoln in the union army to fight for their freedom in the Civil War. And these names are up here because they all got left out of the history books. For years and years and years America ignored the fact that these soldiers -- they ignored it in history books, they ignored it in the reenactments, in the movies, in the love stories and poems and songs, all those things that keep our history were void of the fact that at a point President Lincoln realized that in order for him to win this war he had to turn to the very people who had been enslaved all these years to help him win his war.
SMITHAnd so we went to the National Archives, found these names, put them on these plaques for everybody to see. And on the first Saturday of every month we invite a descendant to come to the museum. And that descendant comes and tells us a story about their soldier. And these are just names on the wall until some descendant shows up and says that's my grandfather and I've got the papers to prove it. Here's his discharge paper and this is a photograph of him and this is what he did and this is where we lived afterwards and this is what our family's doing now. So it's a living memorial for these soldiers who did so much for our country.
ROBERTSWell, you know, it's interesting that you bring that up because in the interest of public disclosure, I work part time at Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill which has a lot of Civil War era folks, including photographer Matthew Brady. But we find certainly in a cemetery that people are interested in genealogy, but it seems that that's a big part of Civil War tourism. That people are trying to find their own ancestor and his or her contribution to the war. Do you find it in the National Parks?
LITTERSTAbsolutely. The National Park Service website contains the very popular Civil War soldiers and sailors database, which has the index to the service record, union and confederate, of everyone who fought. So folks can go online, find that basic information, but what our parks are finding is that where 15 or 20 years ago the requests would come in, I'm looking for someone, anything at all, they can now go online and get that basic information themselves and they show up already knowing and looking for that next level of information, looking for where he's buried, do you have documents or photographs of this person?
LITTERSTAnd Civil War genealogy is really, really -- always been very popular, but especially with the advent of the internet and so many resources online we're seeing more and more of that.
ROBERTSWe're gonna take a call. This is Lisa in Springfield, Va. Lisa, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
LISAThank you very much. I just love this discussion. It's so lively. And your point about cemeteries and I have the misfortune of being a person who's descended from union people on one side and confederate people on the other side. So I have this apologetic nature on one side and triumphal nature on the other side. But on my confederate side, when we would go to church with my grandparents in the summertime, we would have a picnic in the cemetery with all of our ancestors around us. It was not unusual. Nobody thought it was strange.
LISAAnd that's where we heard all the stories. And originally when I made my call, I made the point that my dear mother just passed away a couple weeks ago. She was gonna be 91 this summer. And because people live to be in their 90s in my family, she knew two Confederate soldiers who were her great uncles.
LISASo we were able to hear these stories from my grandparents and from my mom about these men who were in the Tennessee Calvary. So I want to say that I am an archaeologist also, and a historian and a writer and those have great value. However, we have an urgency now to talk to our nonagenarian and centenarians and try to collect some of these stories before they disappear with them.
ROBERTSYeah, Lisa, thank you so much for your call. And I invite you to come picnic in Congressional Cemetery. (laugh) They still do it 200 years later and no one thinks it's strange.
LISAI'd love to, thank you.
ROBERTSBut, Frank Smith, it sounds like that's one thing that's going on at the memorial that people are coming and telling the stories they've heard over generations.
SMITHAbsolutely. And, you know, it's so much fun to hear. And in many of these cases, you know, these people are descendant from Confederate soldiers. I'll give you an example of what I mean by this. My -- I have a board member named Lee W. Jackson who's on my board. I have to call his name 'cause he's probably listening out there. (laugh) He's on my board. Lee Jackson was born in Natchez, Miss..
SMITHWell, his great, great, great grandfather Buck Murphy was in the Union army. Why was he in the Union army? Buck Murphy was enslaved in a small town right outside of Natchez, Miss. And at a time during the siege of Pittsburgh all of the slave owners were required to bring some of their slaves to help repair the walls there. So Buck Murphy gets called up along with two or three other enslaved people to work on this entrenchment. And they see a little article that says that the Union army is trying to liberate all the slaves. And one of them says to the other, you know, we on the wrong side of this war. We need to be over there with them.
SMITHSo they ran away that day and they end up in the Union army. Well, Buck Murphy's father was a slave -- was his owner. And Buck Murphy's father ends up in the Confederate army. And at one time, the story is, they both on furlough come back to Natchez and they see each other in their respective uniforms, one in the Union uniform, Buck Murphy, and the other one in the Confederate uniform. And so they -- one says to the other, well, if we see each other on the battlefield we'll just shoot over each other's heads. So this story -- and this is a story that Buck Murphy's family tells.
SMITHWell, how did he find this out? He found this out because every year for many years, Buck Murphy used to put on his Union uniform for the 4th of July, which is coming up soon, a couple days, and he would parade around the streets of Natchez. Why was it the 4th of July? Well, the 4th of July happens to be the day when the Confederate forces surrender Pittsburgh to the Union army. And for the people in Natchez, that was their liberation day. They knew the war was over then 'cause the North had won, the South had been defeated. Buck Murphy was heroic, 'cause by then he was in the Union army.
SMITHSo he would put his Union army uniform on and parade around. And so the Natchez newspaper had a story about him and they said this crazy man puts on his uniform every day -- every year for the 4th of July. (laugh) You know it's hot in it and anybody who's ever been in the service knows. It's 120 degrees in the shade in Mississippi so here's this guy in this wool uniform (laugh) parading around the streets, talk about he was in the Union army Nobody believed him first of all. They thought he was delusional to be out there in the -- well, it turns out that that's the only photograph that they have of their -- of Buck Murphy, is the one that appeared in the newspaper at this time.
SMITHSo these stories are all over. And Buck Murphy himself is buried in the National Cemetery there in Natchez, Miss. with his headstone that says U.S. CT, U.S. Color Troop. So these stories are -- these cemeteries do tell stories. They tell a lot of stories and people go to them for a lot of reasons. And for many year African Americans picnicked in those cemeteries too.
SMITHThey -- we started the commemoration day. We were the first ones to put Union flags on the graves of Union soldiers in these cemeteries in the south following the Civil War when nobody else would go in there 'cause they were surrounded by Confederate sympathizers, except we believed in those people because they helped us get our freedom.
SMITHSo these cemeteries do talk and they're very important. And I think this time around, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, because of the Civil War Memorial, because of the movie "Glory" and many other things, this story's being told now much more completely because now there's much more information about African American soldiers. And I'm very pleased that the park service has come a very, very, very long way now in helping us to get this story straight.
ROBERTSWe are talking about Civil War Washington. We need to take a quick break but we will come back, take more of your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also email us email@example.com. More with Mike Litterst and Frank Smith and your calls in just a moment. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I am speaking with Frank Smith from the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, and Mike Litterst from the National Park Service Civil War 150th Anniversary. And we are talking about the Civil War here in the Washington D.C. area, what it was like then, places you can go to learn about it. And you can join us at 800-433-8850 or send us email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROBERTSAnd, Mike Litterst, we were telling some of these stories and either through the myths of time and the fact that a lot of these were handed down orally and the fact that a lot of the documentation in Washington came from literary types like Walt Whitman, it seems like separating fact from fiction isn't always easy. And maybe not even always necessary. I mean, there's this legend what happened at Fort Stevens with Abraham Lincoln.
LITTERSTThere are no shortages of legends from the American Civil War and a lot of the better stories when delved deeply enough sort of come undone. But there is a story that is oft repeated and oft accounted of Fort Stevens, one of the 68 Civil War defenses of Washington and the only one to come under attack by the Confederates. In the summer of 1864, General Jubal Early had managed to get a Confederate army to the north of the city actually and was coming down -- would've come in what is today George Avenue and defenses actually come under attack at Fort Stevens.
LITTERSTPresident Lincoln goes to the front to see what's going on and be part of it firsthand, comes under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. And several accounts have him coming under fire. One of them is by a young captain, Oliver Wendell Holmes who will ultimately become an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Holmes will take credit for grabbing Lincoln and pulling him down and saying, get down you damn fool. And again, the only time that a sitting president has come under enemy fire in the course of the war, whether or not it ended that way, is probably up for conjecture.
LITTERSTBut again, one of the unknown spots around the city where, you know, a really fairly historic event takes place and the site today is partially reconstructed and there's actually a monument that marks where that episode between Holmes and Lincoln is purported to have taken place.
ROBERTSAnd Holmes, you know, he wrote so many letters and they were pretty well preserved so he's a pretty good primary source. I mean...
LITTERSTYou would think as a jurist he's a fair source. And, yeah, again probably no valid reason to doubt what he writes.
ROBERTSLet's take a call from Mike in Vienna. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Mike.
MIKEGood afternoon. How are you?
MIKEI had a couple comments I made. I'm listening in my car, but I am parked. I've got a very interesting map from 1892 drawn by the engineer platoon of the District of Columbia National Guard, which show all of the defenses of Washington as they were in the Civil War but drawn on the map as -- on the ground as it was in 1892 rather than 1865, which is absolutely fascinating in terms of the places you can recognize. It's kind of like a beltway map.
MIKEOne thing on the map is that what we call the ellipse behind the White House is identified as Grand Army Plaza, which is the name I wish they would reinstate, but I don't think that's going to happen. The other thing is that we -- this old island in the Potomac we refer to as Theodore Roosevelt's Island, which was originally called Analostan Island. And back in the 1860s that was a colony of black citizens. And the first black troops that were raised in Washington, D.C. came from that colony on Analostan Island.
ROBERTSYou know, and by 1892 it was a very different own. You know, the City Beautiful Movement had started to take hold. There was a mall, there were paved streets. It was starting to become an actual civilized place by...
MIKEOh, absolutely. And the book that accompanies the map -- and I have an original copy of that as well -- had great descriptions of prominent homes. It says, for example, you can visit the president at the White House on one day a week at a certain time in the afternoon, come in and shake his hand. And there's tours. They suggest places you can go. And it has the description of the current condition of each of the forts, which is just a great reference. I'm curious whether your guest from the archives is familiar with that map.
ROBERTSHe's from the park service, but let's ask him. Thanks, Mike.
LITTERSTNot a map I've seen. There may be certainly a copy within the collection at the park service headquarters but I haven't seen that map. And you're absolutely right, to watch the evolution overtime of how the city grows and how the forts disappeared is probably fascinating. There is a similar map on the park service website that shows the 18 -- the wartime grid of the city with an overlay of the still existing forts. So it'd be interesting to compare the three, the original, the turn of the century and the current one to see how much it's changed.
ROBERTSYou know, it seems that people who come to Washington as sort of Civil War tourists, for lack of a better word, there's a bunch of different groups. There's the military-strategy people and certainly with the battlefields around here that draws a crowd. There's this sort of genealogy-hunting-their-own-family-stories people. There's the Lincoln-conspiracy people who are a whole other crowd.
ROBERTSAnd then there is this sort of the locals who want to know more about the city. And it seems like until recently that group has been kind of underrepresented, maybe 'cause Washington doesn't have a reputation of having a lot of locals. But, I mean, are people starting to explore in their own backyards a little bit more?
LITTERSTI hope so. One of the goals, at least for the National Park Service for the 150th anniversary of the war, and Frank referred to it, is that we're trying to open it up to new audiences. Certainly the Civil War battlefield historians, the hardcore, we know they're going to come regardless of what year it is or what's going on. But we're trying to reach some of those people who up to this point might not have seen the war as relevant in their own lives and opening up to new stories, stories of African Americans and the contrabands and the U.S. CTs.
LITTERSTThe affect the war had on civilian populations and immigrants and local folks who, as you point out, probably wouldn't think about Washington having Civil War history and background. So we're again attempting to reach some of those new audiences, tell some of those stories that, to be perfectly honest, have not been told very well over the years.
SMITHLet me also say a couple other things about that. First of all, let me say to the gentleman that the -- we know that the first U.S. CT, which is the regiment that was recruited here in Washington, D.C. was trained at that what we now call Roosevelt Island. And one of the reasons why these regiments were being trained in these secluded places was because the fact that these guys were being brought into the military at all was a very controversial thing.
SMITHYou know, when --I remember there was a story about a U.S. CT regiment that was recruited in Baltimore and -- in the Baltimore area. And at one point the word is that these guys shouldn't parade through downtown Baltimore because it was too hostile. And the commander of the regiment said, well if we can't march through Baltimore we certainly can't march through the battlefields in the South. So they locked and loaded and marched down through -- well, why was this a concern, because there was a great deal of hostility to bringing these soldiers in.
SMITHOf course they had riots in New York City and that. So in addition to the South being hostile to having African Americans in the army, the North was hostile too. So -- but my point is that what you see is that the Union -- the federal government now is expanding to include African Americans, not only as people in the military, but of course, you know, when the war's over, the Congress passes the 13th Amendment, which abolishes slavery, the 14th Amendment makes African Americans citizens and the 15th Amendment gives African American men the right to vote.
SMITHAnd this is a tremendous expansion of the franchise. First of all, it's a large expansion of people being admitted to citizenship that ever took place at one time in the history of the country. You expand a franchise by a great deal by including these African Americans as people who are able to vote. And on a panel a few weeks ago when somebody asked me about what I thought the difference was between reconstruction, which actually got turned back, and now as people -- as we debate these issues in the public today, I saw one of the big differences between now and reconstruction is women have the right to vote -- white women now have the right to vote.
SMITHThey didn't have the right to vote during the period of reconstruction. And I am convinced that their entry into American politics in addition to African Americans and the large growing Latino population has liberalized the American electorate to the point where you could see an African American able to get elected President of the United States today. So this war changed this country and set it on a course to a new direction. And I think it's -- one of the reason why people are so interested in it is because it was so pivotal in the history of the country.
SMITHThey were still being sliced and diced and let me just say as somebody who went to see "Lincoln the Vampire Hunter" over the weekend, I'm going to take my 12-year-old grandson to see it. I'm not a big vampire fan, but that was the only movie I could find at 9:00 on Saturday night.
ROBERTSAnd they had air conditioning.
SMITHAnd had air conditioning. I was stuck. I went to see it and I been talking about it all weekend. So go see it. You'll see another version of history. You can't count on movies for your history, but it's always fun.
ROBERTSWell, you know, another area that the Civil War changed was medicine. And I don't know if people who are interested in medical tourism or medical history have been coming to Washington, but they should because there's so much here. Most particularly the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which was for a long time the Walter Reed is reopened in Silver Spring and is very closely tied to the Civil War and Civil War history. Mike, tell us a little bit about what's there.
LITTERSTThe museum was actually founded during the war. It observed its 150th anniversary just at the end of May. And the idea was the medical leaders of the army were seeing cases that they've never even dreamed of before and surgeons using ingenuity to cure diseases and sew up wounds. So the call went out to -- for the surgeons of the army to document what they were doing, write down save, you know, portions of surgical kits and the like, send them to this museum where they could be studied for future generations. A hundred and fifty years later, it still exists.
LITTERSTOne of the first Union generals to take heed of this was a political appointee, a man by the name of Daniel Sickles. And...
ROBERTS...who sounds like such a character.
LITTERSTYeah, Sickles the Incredible and I don't think that even sums it up. He had notoriety throughout the city even before the war. He got wind that his wife was having an affair with the son of Francis Scott Key, gunned him down in Lafayette Park in full view of the White House. And his lawyers would argue that learning of this made him insane with jealousy and he's the first man to successfully beat the rap on a temporary insanity plea. So you can imagine putting this man in the war.
LITTERSTHe is seriously wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg as a cannonball takes his leg off. And as he's being carted off the field so that his men would not worry about him and to ease their concerns he lit up a big cigar and smiled and waved and puffed on the cigar as he went. But after the amputation of his leg he sent it over to what is today the National Museum of Health and Medicine. It was put on display with a cannonball similar to the one that had taken it off. And Sickles used to visit every year on the anniversary of the battle to visit his leg. And to this day it's still on exhibit and it is one of the more interesting if not slightly macabre exhibits that exists in Washington
ROBERTSNow it is one of those overlooked places that I encourage people to go visit, especially in its new digs up in Silver Spring. It's quite a great place, especially if you're tired of taking out-of-town, you know, folks to the Air and Space Museum yet again.
SMITHCould I just say something about medicine too? You could imagine that with 200,000 African Americans in the Civil War, now the question of what kind of medical treatment do they get when they -- 'cause they also get sick from the same disease that everybody else gets sick from. And they get shot. They were soldiers. And they march up on like everybody else does. And many of them actually get killed, about 20 percent of them. But there's a story also about a doctor named Alexander Augusta, an African-American. You might ask how could an African-American become a doctor in a country where it's against the law to teach, especially a slave person, how to read and write, but people will find ingenious ways to do things.
SMITHAugusta apparently had been trained in medical school in Canada where he could go to school after -- and I don't know if he were ever enslaved in the U.S. or not, but by the time the Civil War starts, he comes back to the United States, President Lincoln commissions him an officer, and assigns him to Camp Barker, which is at 12th and S Street in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington D.C. Why does he send him over there? Because these 5,400 contraband individuals who are living there, former slaves mostly, are suffering from the same diseases of everybody else.
SMITHThere's no running water and all this stuff, so the president sent him over there, and he turns out to be an officer who outranks the guys who's in charge of the contraband camp. And so the gentleman writes the president a little note saying, you put me in a bad spot here. You sent over an African-American doctor who outranks me, and I'm supposed to tell him what to do, and which that -- which goes to the whole point about whether an African-American can tell -- can order white people around.
SMITHWell, the president is still telling him to soldier up and do the right thing, assigned Alexander Augusta to Baltimore to a place where -- a recruitment station there, and eventually he comes back to Camp Barker. But at that site, they established a clinic that later becomes Freedmen's Hospital, and now is the Howard University Hospital, and there's a big display at Howard University Hospital about Alexander Augusta who was one of the doctors who was in the Civil War who actually helped to establish that clinic there on the grounds of the contraband camp and later what is now Howard University Medical School.
ROBERTSThat is Frank Smith. He's the founder and director of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum. We're also joined by Mike Litterst, National Park Service communications coordinator for the Civil War 150th anniversary. We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, more of your calls and emails. You can join us 800-433-8850, or send us email email@example.com. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are talking about strolling through history here in Washington D.C., Civil War tourism in the region. My guests are Frank Smith from the African-American Civil War Museum, and Mike Litterst from the National Park Service, and we are taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Let's hear from Marion in Washington D.C. Marion, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MARIONYes, hi. I just wanted to make three brief comments and then I'll listen. I've spoken to Mr. Smith on the phone. I'm a native Washingtonian. I was born at Freedmen's Hospital, and my grandfather's grandfather, Edward Miller, was one of the Civil War colored troops. He served in the heavy artillery regiment, and found his name there on the wall. I don't know how he got from Missouri down to enroll in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but he did.
MARIONSecondly, is that we're on the eve of fourth of July, and while we're just beginning to talk about black Americans through history with regard to the Civil War, because it was about us, but it's going to be even harder to deal with the wars of 1812 and the Revolutionary War because most black Americans fought with the British during the U.S. Revolutionary War, and I'd really like to learn more. As a Washingtonian, we are very interested in our own local history, which is also tied to the abolition of slavery here in D.C. in April 1862 before the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. Thank you.
ROBERTSAnd Marion, before you go, let me just ask you, in terms of knowing about your family's Civil War history, how do you know? Were those -- do you have documentation, was it stories passed down? How well-preserved is the information?
MARIONWell, it's both, and this is very important for the entire black American population, because we weren't brought over here individually or anything. This is a collective issue, it's a human rights issue. I got information from family members. My grandfather, Ruben Nichols, was the first black homicide detective here in Washington Metropolitan Police Department, and my dad -- we took my grandfather to Gettysburg in the 1960s, about 1964 or '65. He was so touched, because other people had promised him.
MARIONThe Civil War was so important to successive generations of black Americans, and even today for those of us, you know, in our heart, the meaning of it, it's, you know, central to who we are and how we have advanced toward being considered fully human. But, you know, my grandfather told me some things, I've got a document from a friend of mine who is an amateur genealogist, and so Edward Miller, yes, was my grandfather's mother's father, and he was born enslaved in Missouri.
MARIONSo but we need help from the National Archives Genealogy Room, and the U.S. -- not just the U.S. government, but the awareness of the importance about the difficulty, the complexity, and the centrality in U.S. history of who the black American people are is so important. Michelle Robinson Obama's new -- the book about her family "American Tapestry" I believe, it gets to the point about how complex stuff that you wouldn't believe, but it is true, and it is black America.
ROBERTSMarion, thank you so much for your call. I'm sorry. Did you want a chance to respond?
SMITHWell, I just wanted to say that I just received a copy of Michelle Robinson's book also which has the story in it about Michelle Obama being a descendant of an Africa-American Civil War soldier. We're checking on that story because we -- I told you, every first Saturday we have a descendant come and talk about their soldier, and we would love to the first lady of the United States come and talk about her solider who on one side of her family was born in Rex, Georgia, and I was born in Newnan, Georgia, so I'm partial toward anybody who got out of Georgia to do something very famous, and she's done something very, very, very famous.
SMITHBut I wanted to just share that story and also to say that we do invite people to come on the first Saturday, and I hope this lady will come and share her story with us. I don't know if she shared it already, but we do this every first -- and institutionalize this. We do it at eleven o'clock, so people who are just passing through town can come and then we got these followers now, once you do your family story, you want to hear other people do their family story, and that's what we expect will happen. That is we'll build up.
SMITHThere were -- there was 200,000 African-Americans in the Civil War. Eighty percent of them lived, that means 160,000 of them lived and came home and they brought home with them these stories, and we want to know about them, and many of their children and great-great-grandchildren are still living today, and we want to hear all these stories.
ROBERTSLet's take a call from John in Clarksburg, Md. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," John.
JOHNI have a question for your guest from the park service (unintelligible) My question is about the Monocacy Battlefield. It's just north of (word?), Md., and south of Frederick, Md., and as I understand it, that battlefield was the one that was the incursion into the north of the confederate army, and I believe it was Jubal Early he was talking about earlier. It might have been the same, same army…
JOHN...that came to Washington D.C., the outskirts of Washington. So I wanted to know what you knew about that, and specifically, how many -- how many soldiers died there and, you know, a little bit more information about that if you have any.
ROBERTSYeah. Thanks, John.
LITTERSTAbsolutely. The Monocacy Battlefield as John was surmising is part of that same campaign that brings the confederate army literally to within the district line. In the summer of 1864, Robert E. Lee is attempting to sort of take some of the pressure off the Richmond Petersburg front, so he sends Jubal Early on a raid north, hoping that Grant will send some troops after him and again take some of the pressure off Richmond and Petersburg.
LITTERSTEarly gets across the Potomac River, the union army attempts to block him at Frederick, and along the Monocacy River a union army commanded by Lou Wallace, who will go onto probably greater fame after the war as the author of "Ben Hur," Wallace managed to slow down the confederate advance for a day, but that day is just enough time for enough union troops to get to within the Washington defenses and prevent the confederates from doing anything other than really shelling the town and sending a panic into the streets.
LITTERSTThe Monocacy National Battlefield is one of the newer battlefields in the National Park Service, and again, right outside Frederick, Maryland Visitor Center, ranger-guided walking tours, pretty much what you expect to find at a national park service site. They play a key role in the Antietam Campaign which is coming up on its 150th anniversary. Just prior to the Battle of Antietam, Robert E. Lee's messenger manages to lose his battle orders, and they are found by union troops with a pack of cigars apparently, forwarded to General McClellan who now has Lee's entire strategy in his hands.
LITTERSTThose ordered in 191-- well, actually they -- and they were found on what is today the Monocacy Battlefield, and they will return to Monocacy this fall and be on display from August through October on loan from the National Archives. First time as far as we know that they have returned to the site of where they were originally found 150 years ago.
ROBERTSDo you find that doing interpretation on a battlefield can kind of be a challenge? I mean, it was a good place for a battle because it's a big, open field, right? I mean, sometimes there's not all that much to see.
LITTERSTAbsolutely. It's not like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite where you can get an appreciation for its significance just by looking at it. You're absolutely right. Antietam or Chancellorsville of Gettysburg in a lot of ways would just be open farmland, and that's one of the reasons we encourage folks when they visit our sites, go to the visitor center, get the background information. Spend some time, go out with the park ranger who will take you around and share with you those stories, not only of the military movements, but the people who were affected by what happened, the people that lived there, the people who survived the battle, and again, have someone help you put some context and some meaning into your visit.
ROBERTSLet's hear from Alan in Frederick. Alan, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
ALANHi, yeah. This is the perfect segue. While you're up visiting the Monocacy Battlefield, there's a great medical history museum in downtown Frederick. I just wanted to give a quick plug for that.
ROBERTSThanks, Alan. I would think Frederick would be all War of 1812 all the time these days with the Francis Scott Key connection.
ALANYeah. Well, obviously, you know, downtown Frederick had a lot to do in the Civil War as well. It was spared, and I'm sure your guests can provide a little more information into that. There was a ransom paid -- or a bounty paid which -- whatever you want to call it. But Frederick is in -- even downtown Frederick, even though there's no battlefield, is a very interesting Civil War site.
ROBERTSAlan, thank you so much for your call.
SMITHCould I just say a couple words? We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and I wanted to point out a few things that we're doing at the African-American Civil War Museum. The -- on the 17th of July, we're gonna celebrate, you know, President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, July 17, meets with his cabinet for the first time and reads that -- there's a famous photograph of him reading the Emancipation Proclamation to this cabinet.
SMITHWe have a lecture at the Civil War museum on that whole event at 7:00 p.m. on the -- and this is all free. It's open to the public and free at the African-American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue, and then you mention Antietam and I gotta say a word about that because that's where President Lincoln finally -- at that meeting at the White House in '62, he's advised not to issue the Proclamation until he got a battlefield victory. Well, why are they saying that, because Lincoln's been losing a series a of these battles -- not just Lincoln, but the union army has been, and so they wait until the Battle of Antietam where they finally get a victory and then -- and at that date, September 22, I believe it is, '62, President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation for the first time for the public giving the south a hundred days from September 22 to January 1 to come back into the Union, and I'm glad to say that they did not do they because -- and their not coming back into the union made the emancipation take effect January 1, gave our people a chance to fight for their freedom.
SMITHSo in celebration of the 22nd, we're having a big event here as part of the black caucus around the emancipation day. We're calling the emancipation day September 19th at the museum and then, of course the watch night celebration is something we always celebrate December 31 because we were praying that the south won't accept the terms of the emancipation proclamation and come back in the union, that they will indeed let this thing take effect because we want to see it. Fred Douglass says you can't finish what you don't start. We want to see this thing get started so we can get in there and help save this union, and so of course we have a big jubilee on the first of January, 1863.
SMITHSo we're leading -- I just wanted to point that out to the public because we are working at various ways to not only make this information available to the public, but also to have people join with us in these great celebrations. So come out and join us at the African-American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue, Northwest Washington D.C.
ROBERTSAnd Mike, I want to give you a chance to plug what's going on at Antietam because I think if anyone knows anything about that battle, it's just sort of that it was bloody and awful, but it was also strategically important, and its anniversary is coming up.
LITTERSTThe 150th anniversary of the Maryland campaign, the larger campaign is just about to get underway. July 13, 1862, Robert E. Lee starts to send troops north that will ultimately wind up at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Notable, as you mentioned, for no other thing. It is the single bloodiest day in the course of the war as far as casualties, but it's the significance of what happens and, you know, Frank has referred to that, that it is that battlefield victory that allows Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and all of a sudden it goes from a war merely to save the union and bring the confederate states back into the fold and now union war aims have been expanded to include the abolition of slavery.
LITTERSTSo there is a four-day event that will take place in Antietam National Battlefield in September. It starts on the Thursday before, that's the 14th, going through Sunday the 17th, and then again the 150th anniversary a few days later on the 22nd, 150th anniversary observance of the issuing of the preliminary emancipation proclamation. Also involved in the 150th anniversary around the Maryland campaign, we have events at Manassas National Battlefield Park, Harper's Ferry National Historical Site, Monocacy National Battlefield.
LITTERSTEncourage folks to get online, nps.gov/civilwar calendar of events will give you all those events and many, many, many more that are going on over the next several years for the anniversary.
ROBERTSSo nps.gov/civil war, and a quick website for the African-American History Museum?
ROBERTSOkay. And we've got lots of links on our website as well. Frank Smith and Mike Litterst, thank you both so much. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Kojo Nnamdi will be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.